Drug Crazed

Millions in federal tax dollars are being spent by narcotics task forces in Texas to nab low-level users and dealers. Is this any way to wage a drug war?

"I was almost old enough to be their mom," Markham says.

From high school, Markham went to working the bar scene in small towns around Dallas before settling into a patrol job with The Colony Police Department in 1988. When The Colony decided to join an anti-drug task force that was forming in the area, Markham was selected as the department's representative, and she was happy to be working drug cases again. But after she'd spent a few months with the task force, department officials decided Markham had been working narcotics for too long. They reassigned her to patrol in 1997. In retrospect, Markham admits that she should have done exactly what she was told. Instead, she signed on with the now-defunct Northeast Area Drug Interdiction Task Force based in Rockwall, something she calls "the worst mistake I ever made in my law enforcement career."

From the beginning, Markham says, she was troubled by the focus of the Rockwall task force. "The thing I started noticing was that they were only going after blacks," Markham says. She also got crossways with her new boss.

Charles Workman, second from left, and Helen Boone, fifth from left, were among several Hearne residents to testify about drug task forces before the Texas Legislature.
Steve McVicker
Charles Workman, second from left, and Helen Boone, fifth from left, were among several Hearne residents to testify about drug task forces before the Texas Legislature.

"He wanted me to take a load of [marijuana] to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and drop it off there," says Markham. "When I told him I couldn't do that" because it was against the law, "I got fired."

Rockwall task force commander Mike Box III declines to address Markham's allegations. He does acknowledge, however, that the task force's emphasis on low-level dealers and users is merely a response to the concerns of the community. Residents, he says, routinely call sheriff's departments in the four-county area complaining of the drug traffic in their neighborhoods.

After Rockwall, Markham's next stop was the Narcotics Trafficking Task Force of Chambers and Liberty counties in 1995. Once again, Markham found what she describes as racial profiling.

"Basically, it came down to that white America was no longer touched," Markham says. "If you were white, you didn't have to worry much about task forces, because they were going after crack. But it doesn't take any skill to make a crack bust. All you have to do is drive up and roll down your window. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. But the drug problems in these various counties do not just involve black people, and it's not just crack. But that's about all they're turning out now. It's just ridiculous."

According to Markham, the problems in Chambers and Liberty counties run deeper than racial profiling. In 1997, after two years on the job, Markham discovered that the task force members and their confidential informants were setting up people for arrests. She became aware of the practice when she and an informant went to a house in Anahuac in Chambers County to buy some pot. Markham says that while she and the informant were able to obtain the dope from the woman who lived in the house, the woman refused to take their money. Nevertheless, the informant later put in his report that the woman had in fact taken the money. Markham questioned the informant about the discrepancy, but she says the informant told her that it was the task force's standard procedure to falsify statements--that he had done at least 150 cases the same way.

When she took the problem to her superior, Markham says, she was told not to worry, that it would be the informant, not her, testifying in court. Soon afterward, she was handed a list of 22 reprimands and was fired. Markham filed a lawsuit against the task force and eventually settled out of court. She received a mere $8,000, but she refused to cash the check when she realized that one condition of the settlement was for her to remain silent.

Mike Little, district attorney for Chambers and Liberty counties and the task force project director, did not return phone calls seeking an interview.

"I think there needs to be a Justice Department investigation," Markham says. "I think the office of the governor should be more involved in these task forces and look into the corruption, because they are full of corruption, but they operate like the CIA. Nobody ever knows what they're doing, which is a good thing investigation-wise. But accountability-wise and responsibility-wise, nobody's doing anything. Because if anything happens, everybody's afraid they're going to lose their federal funding. So they just let you resign, no matter what you've done. You get a clean bill of health, and you move on to the next task force."

If central casting ever needs a stereotypical Texas lawman, they could turn to Sheriff Gerald Yezak. In his white straw cowboy hat, elephant-skin boots, striped western shirt and creased Wrangler blue jeans secured with a belt anchored by a buckle the size of his fist, the long, tall and prematurely gray Yezak cuts an impressive figure as he enforces the law in Robertson County, the 870 square miles where he has spent most of his 45 years. Rolling along in his maroon Dodge Ram 2500, Yezak seems to know everyone in the county, greeting his constituents by name as he makes his way along the quiet, lazy streets of Calvert, Bremond and Franklin, the county seat.

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